Why Your On-Again, Off-Again Relationship Will Never Turn Out How You Want


For years, I've watched shows with roller coaster relationships of on-again, off-again couples. There's Ross and Rachel, Carrie and Big and Robin and Ted. The theme is always the same: There's someone you're meant to be with, and in the end, it always works out.

They always manage to date, break up, stay friends and date again. It's an endless cycle until the final dramatic scene where they end up together.

But, real life isn't like that. In fact, we cause ourselves a lot of unnecessary drama and pain because we can't quit our exes for good.

I know this pattern. For years, I kept crawling back to mine. I got back with some of them for hookups. I got back with others because I believed in the old tale that “this time around would be different.”

Take Chris*, for example. I met Chris and his three male roommates at a bar in New York City. We all quickly became good friends. Chris had just gotten out of a long-term relationship. So while I was busy falling for him, he was busy trying to heal his own broken heart.

After months of casual flirting, Chris confessed he just wanted to be my friend. We were touchy, affectionate. But, I accepted the fact we were just friends.

So, I was surprised when months later, Chris called and said, “When I see beautiful women, I only want to talk to you, just you. I think we should give dating a try.” It couldn't have been penned more beautifully than by a TV writer.

We went on our first date a few days later. Like most relationships, ours started with enthusiasm. We dated for six months, which is short-term for most people. But, it was a lifetime for me.

When we broke up, I cried for days. We avoided each other for a few weeks, and our mutual friends were forced to divide their time between us. Even more than the loss of our relationship, I was deeply saddened by the loss of our friendship.

We decided to try to be just friends again. I'm friends with plenty of my exes, but with Chris, it was different. We quickly fell back into old routines. He'd call just to chat. His hand would linger a little too long on my arm. Despite myself, I was always glad to see his name pop up on my phone screen.

Plus, I knew that maybe, just maybe, we would get back together. I wanted him to call and say, “I made a mistake. We should be together.”

I was so delusional from too many years of romantic movies and TV shows that I was desperately hoping for some sort of romantic gesture. I hoped that one day, I'd show up, and he'd be sitting on my stoop with flowers.

But, that's not real life. In real life, he started dating someone four months later. Even though I didn't have the right to be angry, I was furious. It was the beginning of a string of countless awkward encounters. Thanks to our mutual friend group, I saw him frequently. I learned how easy it is to avoid someone in the same room.

Despite everything, when he broke up with his girlfriend, I still thought we might get back together. (Pathetic, I know.) We started hanging out again, but only as friends.

Like last time, we fell back into our same patterns. But this time, we never started officially dating again. We got stuck in a weird limbo, a gray zone. We weren't together, but we weren't totally single, either.

The truth was, he didn't want to get back together. And honestly, deep down, neither did I. We broke up because we didn't make sense together. That wasn't going to change.

I was attracted to the story of us rather than the reality of us. I liked the drama and the tension. I wanted to believe in the possibility of us winding up back together and of him being the Ross to my Rachel.

In the gray zone, he'd hang out with me all day and then flirt wildly with other women at night. I couldn't be jealous because we weren't “together." I quickly tired of watching him try to sleep with other women, pretending like I didn't care. I had to realize that our story was truly over.

Breakups happen because relationships aren't working. We're taught to think that maybe it's the timing. We blame our breakups on other outside variables. (“He's stressed at work,” or “Her apartment situation isn't good.”)

We believe, erroneously, that if all of those things “get fixed,” so will our relationship. I had to realize that Chris wasn't Ross. He was Chandler, and I'm Phoebe. There is no happy ending there.

So, the next time you're thinking of calling your ex, stop yourself. The next time you think, "It's different this time,” or "It's complicated,” do yourself a favor and give that relationship a good, hard look. Write down all of things you liked about being with that person and all of the things you didn't like. Because here's a wonderful reality: Happiness doesn't have to come with a complicated backstory.

*Name has been changed.

This article was originally published on the author's personal blog.